I can’t dance. I have two left feet. I like to think that the freestyle dance craze begun in the 50s was invented in my honor. The kind inhabitants of that era caught a glimpse of me as an infant and said, “Whoa. She is going to need some serious accommodations in the dance department,” and they invented the Twist. By the time I got old enough to dance, it was the Pony and the Swim, but it’s the thought that counts.
I appreciate it, guys!
Which isn’t to say that I don’t love watching the more coordinated among us dance – though “Dancing With the Stars” is definitely not my cup of tea. No, I’m holding out for the real thing: I want Fred Astaire.
It is said that Astaire’s genius as a dancer lay in his ability to make it look easy. He never broke a sweat. After watching Fred glide around effortlessly for an hour and a half, moviegoers went home believing that they could probably dance like that if they tried, which was laughable because the redoubtable Astaire was the consummate perfectionist. He practiced endlessly, holding himself and his dance sequences to the highest standards. He was simply in a class all by himself, which put some real pressure on the ladies who danced with him. How many can you name? There was his sister Adele, Claire Luce, Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth – but most people, I think, only remember one woman in connection with Astaire. Ginger Rogers seemed destined to dance with Fred. The phrase “poetry in motion” might have been invented just for their partnership. Yet, while the phrase “she did everything Fred did, backwards and in high heels” is a beautiful tribute to Ms. Rogers’ talent, it is at the same time an overstatement of her significance. Ginger was Fred Astaire’s dance partner, and not the other way around. Ginger was his complement, yes – but not one which he required. Fred took a partner to lift her up to the heights of dance; Ginger was not extending Fred a similar favor. It was the nature of the art that Ginger was to dance the mirror-image, “backwards” as it were; the high heels were simply a reflection of who she was.
Fallen mankind suspiciously envisions the Creator as a Hard Master, the kind who reaps what He did not sow, and gathers where He scattered no seed. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is the Fount of all Goodness; He is celestial Music, pure Joy, and all those who fall into His arms will dance – even left-footers like me. Participation in the Dance is not optional. All of us are Ginger, and we were all created for Fred. We can all learn to dance; indeed, the Dancer insists that we must.
But we are not born knowing how. We must make sacrifices of an epic nature in order to become accomplished in this field. Practice is not daily, but rather moment by moment. Like the best of teachers, the Dancer is by our side every step of the way, coaching us to expect that as we plié for the 900th time, all these things are being added unto us. This fanatical insistence on practice explains why no directions are called out before we make our moves. This is not a square dance to which we are invited; neither is it the self-contained “do your own thing” of the 60s. Instead, the Dancer summons us to His academy to teach us the steps as He dances us through the course of our earthly sojourn. If it seems awkward at first, that’s because it is. The Lead controls the Dance. We do not call the shots, and we are not allowed to choreograph our own numbers. “It takes two to tango” is a pithy synopsis of John 15:5, yet so very few seem to fathom His drift. Some would rather dance alone in hell than take direction into Heaven. But He will lead, and we will dance the mirror-image to get there – there is no other way.
Like Ginger we too dance, as it were, backwards and in high heels, handicapped by our proclivity to sin, and thus we must learn to dance in spite of ourselves. The lessons go against our human nature, and at first our moves are more spastic than graceful. The Dancer calls us to waltz decorously when we demand a polka, yet then He requires that we step spritely when we slump to slumber. Our calling is to follow, to respond, to blend, to meld, to flow – all totally alien to our nature as the stiff-necked offspring of Eve. But fluidity is the key – God cannot partner with a tree stump. Daily we practice pliancy. As the Dancer steps forward, our part is to glide back. He bends slowly to His left, and slowly we incline to our right. He raises our arm, and we plead vertigo in vain – despite our better judgment we spin, slowly, languidly, till we come to rest in the embrace of His arms. Our steps, at first mechanical, become intuitive – with practice we learn to sense the direction the Dancer will take even before the music becomes audible. Our ears grow accustomed to catching snatches of the heavenly promenade, as if our Danseur Noble were humming the tune in our ear. We are not propelled by prods or shoves – our long association with our Partner grants us an intuition that makes our dance seem inspired, when all along it is simply based upon an intimate knowledge of Him Whom we have believed, and an ever-more-fervent desire to cleave to Him. Accomplished dancers, our trust becomes such that we will one day, all of us, lean back into His arms as He inclines us to the floor, never doubting that He will raise us up again in the rhythm of the Dance.
For the Dance is beauty enfleshed – it is the end to which man was created. The Dance is our participation in the life of God, a participation in His work so elegant that it flows like a pas de deux. The Dance is not optional – everyone must dance, even the left-footed like me. The question is rather whether we dance alone and for our own amusement or whether we dance to a purpose, to His purpose, to His melody, allowing His impeccably crafted choreography to determine the steps of our life. Being partner to the Dancer is the end to which we were born, and we heap glory upon His name when we dance the mirror image, followers to His lead.
It is a tribute to His Goodness that each dancer among us will await a reward for his sacrifices, recognition bestowed by the One Who taught us everything we know. We shall dance to our reward, to hear the words all good servants hope to have whispered in their ear: “You dance divinely,
my beloved!” The One Who created us to dance will Himself crown our efforts as He dances us through the gates of Heaven, backwards and in high heels.
On the memorial of Sts. John Wall and John Jones
Deo omnis gloria!
Photo credits: Obra de fileteado porteño sobre Tango by Alfredo Genovese.